Sunday, February 22, 2015

Mediocre

I've received a LOT of positive feedback on this one.  (Last night a parishioner said, "That was one of your top three, Father!")  I pray it's helpful to you, too.  A blessed Lent...

   First Sunday of Lent   B 

Four priests were on vacation together,
and the conversation turned to their worst temptations.
“It’s embarrassing,” said the first priest,
“but my biggest temptation is looking at pretty women.
I once bought a copy of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition.
“My temptation’s worse,” replied the second priest.
“It’s gambling. 
One Saturday, instead of working on my sermon,

I went down to the track and bet on the ponies.”
“Mine’s worse yet,” added the third.
“I sometimes can’t control the urge to drink.
I’ve even broken into the altar wine.”
The fourth priest sat rather quietly before speaking:
“My brothers, I hate to tell you this,
but my temptation is the worst of them all.
I love to gossip—and, if you’d excuse me for a few minutes,
I’d now like to make a few phone calls!”

What would you say
is the devils’ most dangerous temptation?

Is it lust?
In this age that prefers sex with no strings attached,
lust is indeed a strong contender.
But what about murder?
Willfully taking another’s life
is certainly a pretty serious crime.
Murder must be at least close to the top of the list.
And how about greed?
After all, it’s greed that so often prompts murder
in it’s unrelenting pursuit of power
or money and all it can buy.


What is the devil’s most dangerous temptation?
I’d say that it’s actually none of the above.
I’d say it’s mediocrity.
I’d say it’s the temptation to be…nothing special—
to believe that you’re second rate,
or run-of-the-mill, at best.
You see, it’s not so much that the devil
is keen to exploit your weakness—as we so often assume;
it’s that he fears your glory.
And so he tempts you to be…eh?…mediocre.

That’s the best way I can describe
how Jesus was tempted by Satan in the desert.
Still wet from his Baptism,
Jesus heads out into the wilderness.
Remember what happened
when he emerged from the Jordan River?
The heavens were torn open,
the Spirit descended like a dove,
and the Father’s voice was heard:
“You are my beloved!  You are my Son! 
With you, I am well pleased!”
The glory of God is seen shining on the face of Christ. (cf. 2 Cor 4:6)
And that makes him particularly dangerous—
at least, as far as hell is concerned.
There had been other faith healers and wonder workers.
And preachers?  Why, they’re a dime a dozen!
The devil’s never had much problem
eliminating such troublemakers…
…usually by winning them over to his team.


What’s so dangerous about this Jesus
is that other people might get the idea
that they’re made for greatness, too—
that they are God’s sons and daughters;
that they are beloved;
that they have an irreplaceable role in God’s plan.
The all-righteous One would soon enough suffer
for the sake of the unrighteous.
God became man so that man might become God. (cf. St. Athanansius)
If mere mortals are allowed to recognize their true potential—
that they’re not...well...mere mortals;
that God’s glory is meant to shine on their faces, too—
then, for Satan, it’s game over.

So the devil does his darndest
to get Jesus to doubt his true identity:
You’re nothing special.
You’re just another slacker, like all the rest
So settle down.  Settle for less.
Satan didn’t get anywhere with Jesus,
but often has much better luck with you and me.
Lust, murder, greed: they’re simply flashy distractions—
an elaborate and vicious smokescreen
disguising his real agenda.
It’s when we don’t fall for these big-ticket sins
that he moves in to perform far more covert operations:
Thank God you’re not like those wicked wretches!
So relax.  Make yourself comfortable.
Drift along with the current.  Go with the flow.
There’s no need to rock the boat.  Live and let live!
Just be…normal.  You’re just like everybody else.
You’re nothing very special.

Don’t ever—ever—believe those lies!

My friends, you’re as precious to God
as those eight souls he salvaged in Noah’s ark.
That’s why he saved you through water—
not the waters of a great flood,
but the waters of Baptism,
both of which are meant for the downfall of sin.
That’s why he’s given you these 40 days of Lent:
This is the time of fulfillment!
The kingdom of God is at hand!
You are God’s hope for a fresh start for the world!
So be the man, be the woman, God made you to be.
Believe in yourself—in your goodness, in your glory,
that you’re beloved and pleasing to God.
Believe that God believes in you.
The devil fears nothing more than this!

Of course, during Lent we must repent
of our lust, violence, and greed—
of any and all our deadly sins.
But we must also repent of our indifference,
of our conformity to the world and its ways,
of our hesitance and our mediocrity.
Lent is here that you might rediscover—
or maybe discover for the very first time—
just who it is that God made you to be.
The truth is: God made you to be someone special.
God’s given you a role he’s not given to any other.
Dare to be that person!
Do not fear failure;
this is God’s project, after all, and not your own.
Believe in the gospel—in the good news—
and that this god news is meant for you.
Don’t settle for good enough;

The faithful and feisty St. Catherine of Siena
lived almost seven hundred years ago
in turbulent, trying times.
In a letter, she once wrote:
“Be who you were created to be,
and you will set the world on fire.”
Resist every temptation to be mediocre.
God made you for so much more.

2 comments:

Thomas Higman said...

Phenomenal. Great words, Father Joe!

Fr. Joe said...

Ah, shucks...you're making me blush!